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Dogen Zenji

Dogen relates the words of an old Zen master: “Formerly I used to hit sleeping monks so hard that my fist just about broke. Now I am old and weak, so I can’t hit them hard enough. Therefore it is difficult to produce good monks. In many monasteries today the superiors do not emphazise sitting strongly enough, and so Buddhism is declining. The more you hit them, the better.”

The Kyõsaku

In the Soto and Renzai sects of Buddhism the kyōsaku, the “encouragement stick” is used to sharpen a slacking student’s flagging focus, to snap attention back one-pointedly toward the practice and to do so without words “interjecting mind into the seed of awareness.” This pre-emptive concretization of what Arran elsewhere refers to as the “concussive blunt force trauma of nihilism” becomes the post-nihilist realization that there are no carrots (they’ve gone extinct) yet we still require motivation – that we caused the extinction and such extinction in return must be our ultimate stick.

The essential purpose of the kyōsaku is to arouse the “last vestiges of dormant energy” in someone sitting in zazen, to shake the foundation to test for weaknesses, to push one through the shell of self-delusion and into true Self-understanding. Used to rouse drowsy sitters, to spur on striving ones. When the body slumps and the attention loses tautness, opening the way to invading hordes of anxious computation, Bassui tells us the stick is “unequaled for raising one’s concentrative intensity” and anyone that has faced a physically painful reminder of task knows how this kind of blow has the ability to knock all such computation from the head. The dangers to one that grasps on tightly to the outcome of the task reveal themselves in the anxious spiralling feedback of believing the computation necessary is intrinsically accomplished by the individualized self-conception, and that this loss of awareness of active computation is indicative of lost control and a failing.

In this light I have begun to view socioeconomic/political/climatic currents and futures as the escalating attempts to command our attention, rising beyond dismissable events into a space in which we find ourselves “fundamentally pummeled by the lunatic potency of nature” but a nature in Timothy Morton’s words that is beyond simple ecology. A Nature of physical laws commanding infinite dissolution of all Objects into the darkest (non)matter. It is within the eye of all our future storms that I find myself most completely at a kind of strange brutal peace, at the receiving end of this prolonged, protracted, yet sharp crack of the kyōsaku in which I’m reminded that the only tool is Self and the sharpening of the tool of Self upon the unyielding stone of the Real reveals the ultimate ever-becoming/ever-being-eaten ourobouros of Mu that only appears savage because we are genetically terrified of our one true purpose as biologicals – to disintegrate.

That nature is regarded as ultimately alien by those committed to a technocratic future betrays the inconsistence of any kind of transhuman drive-to-life. When Death is considered the ultimate horizon and not simply one horizon, the inherent fear of uncertainty in the mind of one endoctrinated toward the ideal of Control embodied by Burroughs’ so-called One-God Universe (think monotheism/governmental oversight/language as dominant mode of communication/mathematical formalism pre-Cantor/Gödel/ego-driven default mode self-reflective brain operation) becomes rampant and infects all nodes of calculation with its top-down oscillatory anxiety that vibrates the entire webwork of conceptual thought. Error-correction goes offline, and the mind is evolutionarily trained to retreat to any conception of stability and safety it understands. The modern mind is uniquely mismatched against an “opponent” that is the ultimate perfect exemplar of sitzfleisch.

The kyōsaku attenuates this vibration.

SNAP

The webwork becomes taut.

In the hands of a sensitive, enlightened godo, able to strike when the iron is hot, or for that matter to make the iron hot by striking, the kyōsaku intelligently applied can, without paining the sitter, elicit that superhuman burst of energy which leads to one-pointed mind becoming spontaneously realized. In the temple the heaviest blows are reserved for the earnest and courageous and not wasted on slackers or the timid. It is never administered as chastisement or out of personal punishment. The one struck raises their hands in a reverent gesture of gratitude known as gassho and the godo in turn acknowledges this with a bow in the spirit of mutual respect and understanding. “The adage that a poor horse can’t be made to run fast no matter how hard or how often he is whipped is well understood in the zendo.”

There is no denying, however, that for the Euromerican mind, unable to disabuse themselves of the notion that beatings with a stick are an affront to their dignity, the kyōsaku will always remain a menace rather than a goad. It has been said that love without force is weakness and force without love is brutality, and it cannot be emphasized enough that the administration of the kyōsaku is not a matter of simply striking one with a stick. Indeed, if the stick is to be a spur and not a thorn, the act must be of compassion, force, and wisdom conjoined. The godo in the temple must be one of strong spirit and a compassionate heart, that has undertaken to identify themselves with the deepest spiritual aspirations of those sitting in zazen.

Rosenthal, Sandra B. (2005) ‘The Ontological Grounding of Diversity: A Pragmatic Overview’ in The Journal of Speculative Philosophy:

The uprootedness of experience from its ontological embeddedness in a natural world is at the core of much contemporary philosophy, which, like pragmatism, aims to reject foundationalism in all its forms: positions that all hold, in varying ways, that there is a bedrock basis on which to build an edifice of knowledge, something objective that justifies rational arguments concerning what is the single best position for making available or picturing the structure of reality as it exists independently of our various contextually set inquiries. There can be no nonperspectival framework within which differences—social, moral, scientific, etc., can be evaluated and resolved. These positions may, like pragmatism, focus on the pluralistic, contextualistic ways of dealing with life, on the role of novelty and diversity, on a turn away from abstract reason to imagination, feeling, and practice, and on the need to solve the concrete problems of political, social, and moral life. However, pragmatism, in rejecting foundationalism and its respective philosophic baggage, does not embrace the alternative of antifoundationalism or its equivalent dressed up in new linguistic garb. Rather, it rethinks the nature of foundations, standing the tradition on its head, so to speak, and this rethinking incorporates the ontological grounding of diversity.

This rethinking, which incorporates the essentially perspectival nature of experience and knowledge, goes hand in hand with pragmatism’s radical rejection of the spectator theory of knowledge. All knowledge and experience are infused with interpretive aspects, funded with past experience. And all interpretation stems from a perspective, a point of view. Knowledge is not a copy of anything pregiven, but involves a creative organization of experience that directs the way we focus on experience and is tested by its workability in directing the ongoing course of future activities. In this way, experience and knowledge are at once experimental and perspectival in providing a workable organization of problematical or potentially problematical situations. Not only are perspectives real within our environment, but without them there is no environment.

Further, our worldly environment incorporates a perspectival pluralism, for diverse groups or diverse individuals bring diverse perspectives in the organization of experience. The universe exists independent of our intentional activity, but our worldly environment is inseparable from our meaning or intending it in certain ways, and these ways are inherently pluralistic. However, such pluralism, when properly understood, should not lead to the view that varying groups are enclosed within self-contained, myopic, limiting frameworks or points of view, cutting off the possibility of rational dialogue, for two reasons. First, perspectives by their very nature are not self-enclosed, but open onto a community perspective, and second, perspectival pluralism provides the very matrix for rational dialogue and ongoing development. And it is within the core of human selfhood that the primordial ontological embeddedness of diversity within the very nature of, indeed as constitutive of, human experience can be found.

For pragmatism, mind, thinking, and selfhood are emergent levels of activity of ontologically “thick” organisms within nature. Meaning emerges in the interactions among conscious organisms, in the adjustments and coordinations needed for cooperative action in the social context. In communicative interaction, individuals take the perspective of the other in the development of their conduct, and in this way there develops the common content that provides community of meaning and the social matrix for the emergence of self-consciousness. In incorporating the perspective of the other, the self comes to incorporate the standards and authority of the group; there is a passive dimension to the self Mead calls the “me.” Yet, the individual responds as a unique center of activity; there is a creative dimension to the self, the “I” (Rosenthal 2005:107).

classic pdf up for grabs:

Assembling Ethics in an Ecology of Ignorance, Paul Rabinow

Paul Rabinow is Professor of Anthropology at the University of California (Berkeley), Director of the Anthropology of the Contemporary Research Collaboratory (ARC), and former Director of Human Practices for the Synthetic Biology Engineering Research Center (SynBERC). He is perhaps most famous for his widely influential commentary and expertise on the French philosopher Michel Foucault. He was a close interlocutor of Michel Foucault, and has edited and interpreted Foucault’s work as well as ramifying it in new directions.

Rabinow is known for his development of an “anthropology of reason”. If anthropology is understood as being composed of anthropos + logos, then anthropology can be taken up as a practice of studying how the mutually productive relations of knowledge, thought, and care are given form within shifting relations of power. More recently, Rabinow has developed a distinctive approach to what he calls an “anthropology of the contemporary” that moves methodologically beyond modernity as an object of study or as a metric to order all inquiries.

 Rabinow’s work has consistently confronted the challenge of inventing and practicing new forms of inquiry, writing, and ethics for the human sciences. He argues that currently the dominant knowledge production practices, institutions, and venues for understanding things human in the 21st century are inadequate institutionally and epistemologically. In response, he has designed modes of experimentation and collaboration consisting in focused concept work and the explorations of new forms of case-based inquiry.

 Rabinow has played leading roles in the design of the Anthropology of the Contemporary Research Collaboratory (ARC) and the Synthetic Biology Engineering Research Center (SynBERC).

Emergency? Of what kind, where, affecting who? In most recent global history, a number of monumental incidents of a political nature, many of which fall under a larger concept of “biopower,” put the world into a state of crisis. The dismantling of socialist states in the (former) Eastern Europe and of welfare democracies in the (former) West, and more recent events such as 9/11, the war in Iraq, the bombings in London and Madrid, as well as devastating natural disasters such as last year’s tsunami and hurricane “Katrina,” have chipped away at the promise of global mobility and economic prosperity, and contributed to a general sentiment of immense instability and permanent danger across the world. This situation has placed all levels of public life in a confrontational mode, forcing everyone to face the crisis and refine ways of governance according to the new circumstances. Crisis, as a catalyst for change, is a paradoxical agent. At the same time it signals a shift in the existing power structures, it also provides an opportunity, or excuse, for their reinforcement. Jeremiah Day, Jan Verwoert, and Klub Zwei discuss the notion of crisis in our present-day world, and look back upon some historical examples. Specifically, alternative models of governance and political response are considered by re-posing the question: How can critical artistic and intellectual practice address these contexts and propose another path?

Mostly Green, by Michael Bizeau

Mostly Green, by Michael Bizeau

Levi Bryant has a interesting post up on Heidegger (here), wherein he moves from a damn fine summary of ‘equipmentality’ to a discussion of cognitive blindness (although without reference to the massive amounts of empirical research being done in this area outside of the humanities), to a powerful statement about the need to think and write against the biases and shortcomings of distinction-making or symbolic differentiation, to an important statement about the use and limits of reflexivity.

What I enjoyed most about Bryant’s post is how well he drove home the point about the selectivity of human awareness, and how more integrative (cross-disciplinary and multi-methodological) approaches to knowing and considering are required if we want to have adequate understandings of particular social and political situations. If we are to activate a practical awareness of complex dynamics we have to attend to as many causally implicated systems and processes at the various scales as are available to us. ‘Availability’, thus, being an issue of how our cognitive-sensory capacities encounter things and how our instruments and theoretical tools help us disclose the myriad of objects, assemblages, systems and flows existing within the field/context of our inquiry. Enter Heidegger.

Of course, much of what Bryant suggests in his post is typical of what you will find circulating within most developed anthropology programs. There has been much ado in anthro about Donna Haraway’s work on “situated knowledges” and Clifford Geertz’s work on the need for “thick description”, among other theoretical advances that attempt to traverse categorical purity and methodological fetishes, and anthropology generally attempts to offer a “4-field approach” to knowledge generation that makes ample use of linguistic, materialist, cognitive, and historical methods in the search for comprehensive descriptions and analytical insight. What is important, then, in terms of Bryant’s post, is that he is specifically addressing philosophers. By marshalling the pragmaticist aspects of Heidegger’s thought Bryant successfully contrasts the tendency of so-called “detached philosophers” to get caught up/distracted in categorical concerns and contemplative specularity at the expense of appreciating the “everydayness” and practical engagements of our being-in-the-world. Initial disclosure of an ontological world is always a non-thetic and “pre-reflective” disclosure (as first-order ‘structural’ relation). And I argue, in a related sense, that contemplative ‘specularity’ (as second-order ‘epistemic’ relation) is, as Laruelle and others have suggested, a key feature of the philosophical miscontrual of radical immanence. In other words, philosophical speculation has a tendency to gloss over the practical situatedness (dare I say ecological materiality?) of being and knowing in favor of creating marked and highly abstract distinctions leading to a variety of metaphysical confusions. Enter Wittgenstein.

Moreover, it seems to me the effect of working from an appreciation of situated knowing (viz. fundamental ecologicality or radical immanence) would be substantial for those pursuing speculative thought. From a worldly and embedded, or what I have called elsewhere creaturely, praxis-oriented philosophical approach scientific/empirical knowing (as mode) and knowledge (as product) can be recognized for what it is: an extension of a more general human ‘know-how’, but also for how it is enacted, co-constructed and socially/ecologically generated. Human knowledge is produced from embodied and embedded ‘know-how’, and is at its core about pragmatic coping (‘coping-with’) in the wider field of beings, forces, powers and becomings.

To be sure, I don’t follow Heidegger in everything he had to say about “at-handedness”, preferring instead to appreciate and emphasize the autonomy of entities endowed with capacities to affect, intervene, interfere and “appear” in the co-disclosing enactment of ‘worlds’ or situations (with our ‘being-with’ as fundamental), but his more pragmatic leanings are highly instructive. As human beings, our involvement in the world is not initially ours, because these everyday activities, or ways of understanding, are always already part of a shared way of going about everyday life. And knowing takes place in this context: it emerges from background conditions, or the plane of consistent and structured practical action. ‘Being’ is only insofar as contingency is produced as cosmos, as a wilderness teeming with flora, fauna and all sorts of mutant assemblages thereof.